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April 3 2014

The Vanishing Middle Class

Charlotte Hays

Nothing was so central to President Obama’s campaign for re-election as the president’s positioning of himself as champion of the middle class.

In reality, he has shrunk the middle class, and this is perhaps the true measure his true transformation of the United States. The AP doesn’t often wax lyrical, but it does in this report on the vanishing middle class:

A sense of belonging to the middle class occupies a cherished place in America. It conjures images of self-sufficient people with stable jobs and pleasant homes working toward prosperity.

Yet nearly five years after the Great Recession ended, more people are coming to the painful realization that they're no longer part of it.

They are former professionals now stocking shelves at grocery stores, retirees struggling with rising costs and people working part-time jobs but desperate for full-time pay. Such setbacks have emerged in economic statistics for several years. Now they're affecting how Americans think of themselves.

Since 2008, the number of people who call themselves middle class has fallen by nearly a fifth, according to a survey in January by the Pew Research Center, from 53 percent to 44 percent. Forty percent now identify as either lower-middle or lower class compared with just 25 percent in February 2008.

According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who say they're middle or upper-middle class fell 8 points between 2008 and 2012, to 55 percent.

And the most recent General Social Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, found that the vast proportion of Americans who call themselves middle or working class, though still high at 88 percent, is the lowest in the survey's 40-year history. It's fallen 4 percentage points since the recession began in 2007.

Not surprisingly, the Associated Press story seems to think that the problem is income inequality. That is the president’s current cry, and, if history is any indicator, his rhetoric will be precursor to a huge growth in income inequality.

But the problem isn’t income inequality. It is lack of opportunity. I only care that Jones is richer than I am if: 1.) I am eaten up with envy, or 2.) I am confronted by a lack of opportunity for my own advancement, or, worse, am falling behind, and thus look for a scapegoat.

While the AP blames the Great Recession, which eliminated more than eight million jobs, we should note that the U.S. in the past has come back much stronger from recessions. The difference this time is an administration that strangles job creation. Businesses face too much regulation. The Affordable Care Act will lead to higher unemployment. The president’s solution? A hike in the minimum wage, which will lead to…loss of jobs.

The AP does take note of the staggering college loan debt with which young people are saddled when moving into the full-time workforce. The president wants to make loans more easily available, though there is ample reason to believe that the root reason that college is so expensive is the intrusion of government into the field of financing higher education.

The Associated Press story, to be fair, is mostly about statistics about how Americans view themselves with regard to class. The figures are fascinating. I urge you to read the story.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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